Dec 172013
 

I visited the Merseyside Maritime Museum at Liverpool’s Albert Dock at the weekend and enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours learning about Merseyside’s maritime history.

The Second World War’s Battle of The Atlantic figured prominently and the displays charted Britain’s struggle against the threat posed by Germany’s U-Boats and surface fleet of pocket battleships.

The term “pocket battleship” flashed through my mind when I called in at my local camera store and handled one of Sony’s  latest compact system cameras — the Sony A7 and A7R.

The A7 and A7R are diminutive cameras, when compared in size with the likes of the Canon 5D Mark III and Nikon D800, but offer the same kind of fire power as their larger cousins – a full-frame sensor, with 24 Megapixels for the A7 and 36 Megapixels for the A7R, as well as a weather-sealed body. Pocket battleship therefore seems an apt description.

Sony A7R camera and  Zeiss lens.

Sony A7R and Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 lens. Picture courtesy of Imaging- Resource. com

The A7R also differs from the A7 in that it dispenses with the anti-aliasing filter for greater resolution and so is on a par with the Nikon D800E. But whereas the Nikon weighs in at 31.75oz, the A7R is only 16.4oz, almost half the weight of the former and both cameras are made from magnesium alloy. In size, the D800E measures 146 x 123 x 82mm, while the A7R is only 127 x 94 x 48mm.

While it may be hard to get your head round those dimensions, I can say the A7 and A7R are not that much bigger in size than a Ricoh GR, although they are roughly twice the weight. They really do have to be seen and handled to appreciate just how small they are.

For me, and photographers of my generation, the presence of an EVF is something that provokes a sharp intake of breath, although it is the direction in which camera manufacturers seem to be heading.

I tried a Fujifilm XPro-1 a few weeks back, Fujifilm has a generous offer until January 31, 2014, and it was most definitely worth checking out. But as I peered through the EVF, something just didn’t feel right. The XPro-1 does come with the option to switch between an EVF and OVF. The latter was worse as I could see the barrel of the lens protruding into my field of vision. My left eye is my shooting eye and for people whose right eye is the stronger, it may not be such a problem. I don’t know. I only have the one pair of eyes.

The EVF of the Sony A7 is quite a different proposition. I could live with the A7’s EVF and no doubt in time become comfortable with it.  Full marks go to Sony for their EVF.

In some ways, a Sony digital camera should have been a natural progression for me. My film SLR was, and still is, a Minolta XD7 and we all know that Sony benefited from Minolta’s digital camera technology when it absorbed the camera–making arm of Konica Minolta.

I am also a big fan of Carl Zeiss lenses and Sony has a partnership with Carl Zeiss dating back to 1996.

Hitherto, Sony never quite had the product that I was looking for that would allow me to benefit from their Zeiss lenses. With the launch of the A7/A7R cameras, all that has changed. A Sony A7R and a Zeiss Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 lens now head my wish list, displacing the illustrious Canon 5D Mark III.  And in the fullness of time, I am sure Zeiss will be extending their range of FE mount lenses for the A7/A7R and its successors.

A recent review called the A7/A7R a game-changer on a par with Apple’s introduction of the iPhone and Ford’s development of the Mustang. I can fully identify with that analogy.

Michael Reichmann at Luminous Landscape has already called the A7R’s sensor the best in the world and the A7/A7R is garnering favorable reviews.

Is it the perfect camera? Of course not, no such product exists. Some reviewers are not overly impressed by the autofocus or shutter sound; others moan about battery life, although I think some reviewers are a little unrealistic in their expectations; and over on Fred Miranda someone has noticed strange orange-peel effects when an image is magnified 11x. Angels dancing on a pin springs to mind but each to their own. One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

For a camera to challenge the dominance of Canon in my thoughts speaks volumes for what the A7/A7R offers. I am impressed and it takes a lot to impress me.

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Sep 242013
 

I threw caution to the winds and bought a Ricoh GR. I figured that after all I have been through, I deserved a treat and the only person who is going to treat me these days is me!

I have had the camera nearly two months, sufficient time to put it through its paces. All I can say is that it is a gem of a camera and not difficult to understand why they are so hard to get hold of.

The scarcity of the Ricoh GR is another reason why I decided to take the plunge and buy one. It seems as soon as retailer takes delivery of a new order, the cameras are gone within a matter of days and that happens on both sides of the Atlantic.

I took to the Ricoh GR instantly but I was lucky enough to be familiar with the Ricoh user interface through my work with the GRD III. Someone coming to Ricoh cameras for the first time may be a little overawed initially but Ricoh’s interface is highly intuitive and they will quickly be up and running.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

With Ricoh cameras, one always gets the feeling that the people who design them are themselves keen photographers as well as camera or electronics engineers. Everything is to hand, so much so that it is possible to operate the Ricoh GR with one hand, useful for when taking candid street photography shots.

The absence of an anti-aliasing filter combined with the incredibly sharp 28mm equivalent f/2.8 lens provides stunning high-resolution images. The removal of the anti-aliasing filter can cause problems with moiré. I experienced that for first time on Saturday when photographing some oil storage tanks at the docks in Bootle, Merseyside. I have yet to process the DNG file and am hopeful that Photoshop CS6 will be up to the task.

When the Ricoh GR first hit the streets, some people – probably owners of Sony NEX or Fujifilm XP-1 cameras – suggested it had problems handling reds. Whether that is a problem with the internal processing of JPEGs I don’t know because I shoot exclusively in RAW. I would be happy for the naysayers to tell me just exactly how the Ricoh GR isn’t handling reds correctly in the shot below.

Gate with Chevrons and No Entry sign at Langton Dock, Bootle

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Where the Ricoh GR has come into its own for me is in stealth street photography. The Snap Mode on the Ricoh GRD III helped in this area but the Snap Mode on Ricoh GR seems so much quicker and precise than the GRD III. It could just be my imagination but I had a greater ratio of keepers using the Snap Mode function on the GR than I did on the GRD III.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

My only criticism of the Ricoh GR concerns the holster-style case. Quite simply I don’t like it. The case is too open for my comfort, allowing easy access for dust. The case will not accommodate the Ricoh GR with an optical viewfinder attached. The case for the GRD III did.

Fortunately, the GRD III case will take the Ricoh GR with viewfinder attached. It will not close completely but at least I don’t have to carry the viewfinder separately and attach it and remove it every time I use the camera.

I have to admit that I rarely use the optical viewfinder but I like to have it in place for those occasions when bright sunlight can make viewing the LCD screen difficult. The optical viewfinder was always attached to my GRD III and I am a creature of habit.

On a couple of occasions with back-lit scenes, the multi metering has resulted in darker than usual images. In those kinds of situations, it is probably best to switch to center-weighted metering. By and large, the metering has been spot on. In the normal course of my photography I do not use the EV compensation function as I do with the GRD III and my Canon 40D. I would say the greater dynamic range is down to the state-of-the-art APS-C sensor of the GR.

On a trip to Liverpool, my photographic stroll was unexpectedly cut short when the battery became exhausted. It was the spare battery I carried with me and it could be that it was not as fully charged as I thought. I have since activated more of the power-saving settings on the GR to place less strain on the battery. My advice, not only for the Ricoh GR but also any compact mirrorless camera, is to always carry a spare battery.

As yet I have not pushed the GR above ISO 800 but the results I have obtained at that setting suggest that ISO 1600 and even ISO 3200 should provide images that can be worked with, especially in B&W where any noise will be reflected as grain. I am not sure I would go as far as ISO 25600 in the ordinary course of my photography but if it was a question of being in a situation where a photograph of the scene before me would go viral and earn me a six-figure sum. it is comforting to know that capability exists.

Ricoh GR at ISO 800. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR at ISO 800. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

The Ricoh GR has become my camera of choice. It is unobtrusive on the streets, making street photography just that little bit easier. It is certainly a lot lighter to carry than a DSLR and my urban strolls tend to cover upwards of three miles on any given occasion. Best of all is the quality of the images it produces. It is small wonder that it is a camera in such high demand and is already being hailed as a classic.

Ricoh is once again to be applauded for designing and producing such a superb photographic tool. I have no regrets about my purchase, only a smile of satisfaction at the great results the Ricoh GR provides.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Ricoh GR. ©Calvin Palmer 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Feb 072012
 

Nikon yesterday announced its replacement for the D700 and the rumours and speculation about the specifications of the D800 came to an end.

The new D800 features a massive 36.3 MP on a full frame sensor. Given the size of files such a huge amount of megapixels will create, I should imagine hard drive manufacturers are rubbing their hands with glee. I just hope they can start making hard drives readily available again and at the prices they were before the flooding in Thailand hit production. Something tells me the prices will be kept high in an attempt to recoup losses.

Canon 40D and Zeiss Planar T* ZE 1,4/50. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Nikon announced two versions of the camera — the D800 and the D800E. The latter strips away the anti-aliasing filter, a feature of the Leica M9 and Ricoh GXR A12 M-mount cameras — to increase resolution even further. Actually, the anti-aliasing filter is not physically removed from the D800E but its effects are cancelled. A potential buyer of the D800E will pay $300 more than the D800 for this option.  More details of the D800s can be found at Nikon USA.

B&H is taking pre-orders for the D800 and D800E, expected to be available in March and April respectively. Perhaps B&H might give me a hefty discount for that shameless plug.

But I am a Canon user and likely to remain one for the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see how Canon responds to its arch-rival when it   releases details of the long-waited Canon 5D Mark III. Canon users keep waiting and waiting and waiting for details of this camera to be released. Perhaps the announcement of the Nikon D800 will spur Canon into a timely response.

The Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D700 were always viewed as head-to-head rivals. When it came to megapixels, the 5D Mark II trounced the D700, offering 21 MP to the latter’s 12.1 MP but Nikon had the edge in terms of low-light ability.

Will Canon surrender to Nikon in the megapixel race or will it respond with an even higher megapixel count in the 5D Mark III to take the wind out of Nikon’s sails?

The greater amount of megapixels is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, 36.3 MP will provide greater detail in photographs and make cropping easier. On the other hand, it will test the resolving attributes of the lenses used and many lenses will fall short of delivering the goods.

One lens manufacturer likely to be able to take advantage of the increased number of megapixesl in the D800s is Zeiss. I would be interested to learn what provision the D800 makes to aid focusing for those photographers choosing to shoot with Zeiss MF lenses.

The D800 will no doubt have many photographers salivating at the prospect of adding it to their photographic gear. Me, I just wish camera manufacturers would get back to basics and provide the digital equivalent of the Nikon F2, Nikon FM, Canon AE-1, Minolta XD7, Olympus OM film cameras.

The video capabilities of the Nikon D800, as with the Canon 5D Mark II, are wasted on me. I am not a videographer and have no desire to use a DSLR as a video camera. It would be most unlikely that the producers of the TV series House would ask me to film an episode with a DSLR, if indeed I had one that boasted video capability.

To me a photograph packs far more impact, and a lasting impact, than any moving video footage. The image of the naked girl running down a road in Vietnam after a napalm attack still lingers in my cerebral cortex, whereas the various graphic newsreels of that war no longer register and have disappeared without trace from my memory.

Perhaps that is where Leica with its uncomplicated M9 camera scores so highly with photographers — it keeps things simple. It is just a pity about the exorbitant price.

Since originally writing this piece, a rumour has surfaced that the replacement for the Canon 5D Mark II will be announced on February 28 and it will be known as the Canon EOS-5D X. Speculation has it that the camera will be available in April in order to deflect attention and potential purchasers from the Nikon D800.

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